Making the goats dance

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According to ("tout sur le vin, ses techniques, son vocabulaire"), the phrase "À faire danser les chèvres" ("To make the goats dance") means "Vin trop acide, désagréable à boire" ("Wine that's too acid, disagreeable to drink").

The Dictionnaire de L'Académie Française cites the same expression: "Du vin à faire danser les chèvres, du vin très acide".

Although the metaphor is not entirely transparent, "make the goats dance" could be used in English, and indeed has been.

For lagniappe, the Académie's entry for chèvre also presents another useful expression, "Ménager la chèvre et le chou, user d’adresse pour se conduire entre deux partis, deux adversaires, de manière à ne blesser ni l’un ni l’autre" ("Spare the goat and the cabbage, use skill to manoeuvre between two adversaries, so as to injure neither one").

Perhaps due to the lack of alliteration, "spare the goat and the cabbage" seems less appropriate to me as an English calque — but again it's Out There.

The compound adjective form chèvrechoutiste, defined by the Wiktionnaire as "Qui tente de faire plaisir à tout le monde, ou de réconcilier des options divergentes" ("who tries to make everyone happy, or to reconcile divergent options"), seems to be a calque too far — though our current political situation should be a target-rich environment for incidents (or accusations) of goatcabbageism.


  1. Thomas Rees said,

    July 12, 2019 @ 2:47 am

    Does "la chèvre et le chou" refer to the well-known river-crossing puzzle about the fox, the goat and the cabbage?

    Interesting that "beef" in English means "chair de bœuf", "mutton" means "chair de mouton", "pork" means "chair de porc", but "chèvre" means "fromage de lait de chèvre" (Yes, I know "chèvre" is a recent borrowing).

  2. unekdoud said,

    July 12, 2019 @ 2:53 am

    The links and Google results also mention the classic river-crossing puzzle where (in one version) a farmer with a small boat struggles to preserve a wolf, cabbage and goat. Because of the rigid nature of the puzzle, it has not lost much in translation.

  3. Paul Turpin said,

    July 12, 2019 @ 4:27 am

    Anent Thomas Rees's post, in France "chèvre" also means "fromage de lait de chèvre", as in "salade de chèvre chaud".

  4. Paul Turpin said,

    July 12, 2019 @ 4:33 am

    This from Douglas Harper's excellent online etymology dictionary:

    tragedy (n.)
    late 14c., "play or other serious literary work with an unhappy ending," from Old French tragedie (14c.), from Latin tragedia "a tragedy," from Greek tragodia "a dramatic poem or play in formal language and having an unhappy resolution," apparently literally "goat song," from tragos "goat, buck" + ōidē "song"…

    [(myl) More detail from the OED:

    < ancient Greek τραγῳδία tragic drama, tragic play, any serious poetry, in Hellenistic Greek also outward grandeur, pomp < τραγῳδός member of the tragic chorus, performer of tragedy, (plural) tragedy or performance of a tragedy (perhaps < τράγος he-goat (see tragus n.) + ᾠδή ode n., after ῥαψῳδός rhapsode n.; perhaps so called because a he-goat was offered as a prize in the earliest contests for writing tragedy) + -ία -y suffix3. And the entry in Liddell and Scott.


  5. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 12, 2019 @ 7:37 am

    Just on the other side of the Rhine one finds bock (="goat") beer, where the goat association is viewed as a positive for an alcoholic beverage rather than a negative. Apparently the name developed via eggcornish reanalysis and/or wordplay*, but the fact that it has stuck around still indicates it's not an unwelcome association.

    *Quoth wikipedia: The style from Einbeck was later adopted by Munich brewers in the 17th century and adapted to the new lager style of brewing. Due to their Bavarian accent, citizens of Munich pronounced "Einbeck" as "ein Bock" ("a billy goat"), and thus the beer became known as "bock". To this day, as a visual pun, a goat often appears on bock labels.

  6. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 12, 2019 @ 8:12 am

    Come to think of it, in the Anglophone world there's a reasonably well-known brand of wine called Goats Do Roam, which I believe is supposed to represent an eggcornish mishearing/reanalysis of Côtes du Rhône. (It's from South Africa – I don't know if the wordplay works better in a South African accent.) I suppose from a marketing perspective it works if the association of goats with wine is amusingly incongruous but not affirmatively negative.

  7. KevinM said,

    July 12, 2019 @ 8:37 am

    The Birth of Tragedy immediately sprang to mind. Can it be that the entire Western literary/dramatic tradition had its origins in a sour stomach? That would explain a lot.

  8. cameron said,

    July 12, 2019 @ 12:15 pm

    @Paul Turpin: note that le chèvre means goat cheese, while la chèvre means nanny-goat.

    The word for a he-goat, or billy, is le bouc.

  9. Andrew Usher said,

    July 12, 2019 @ 7:15 pm


    No need to assume a South African accent. 'Goats Do Roam' is the closest English phrase phonetically to the French, with the /s/ being restored from the spelling. The bigger problem is that the name seems likely to fall flat on anyone that doesn't know the French – perhaps they are marketing only to that class that would.

    I was about to discuss whether 'chevre' really is an English word, but realised that is pointless – when a word is used at all in English, it's impossible to draw a line between its being a foreign or an Englished word, especially here where there'd be no change is pronunciation.

    k_over_hbarc at

  10. maidhc said,

    July 12, 2019 @ 10:41 pm

    There are some trade names for coffee based on the story that coffee was discovered when an Ethiopian shepherd noticed goats climbing up into trees to eat the coffee beans, and then becoming uncommonly frisky.

    I don't have a specific example to hand.

  11. AG said,

    July 13, 2019 @ 6:43 am

    came here to mention coffee as well – among other things the German firm Kaldi is named after the apocryphal goatherd, and there is a roastery in Eugene, Oregon called Wandering Goat.

  12. Jan Schreuder said,

    July 13, 2019 @ 3:57 pm

    In Dutch: de kool en de geit sparen. Save the cabbage and the goat. De “g” in Dutch is a velar/uvular fricative; makes an almost alliteration with “k” in “kool”.

  13. Alex Boulton said,

    July 18, 2019 @ 6:05 am

    In France you can also have a "crottin de chèvre" – while crottin on its own means turd, here it's actually another kind of goat cheese, so-called for its shape not the flavour (some disagree).

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